There’s a good chance you’ll be able to get work done faster after you buy your next laptop, thanks to an advanced type of processor now being used in computers from companies such as Acer, Asus, Dell, and HP.

Such "quad-core" processors have mainly been limited to desktop and specialized laptops until now. But new quad-cores introduced by Intel in August, and AMD in October, are rapidly being integrated into more mainstream laptops.

There's no apparent downside to buying a laptop with one of the new processors. That's refreshing, since when a new technology comes along it often seems to bring as many disadvantages as advantages—the recent trend of removing traditional headphone jacks from smartphones comes to mind. 

The shift to quad-cores doesn’t come with that kind of asterisk.

“It should be all good,” says Maria Rerecich, Consumer Reports’ director of electronics testing (who, incidentally, had a long career in chip design). That means, for instance, no expected hit to battery life or increase in weight. 

The new processors are inherently more expensive for chipmakers to produce than their older, dual-core counterparts, Rerecich says. However, prices for this year’s laptop models generally aren’t higher than the equivalent models from last year.

Not that they're cheap: Quad-core processors are generally found in fairly high-end models, starting at around $1,000.

Once you understand a few things about processor cores, it's easy to see why someone shopping for a fast, highly capable computer should pay attention to them. The processor isn't the the only thing to consider, however: Consumer Reports has comprehensive advice on choosing a computer.

What's a Quad-Core Processor?

A processor, of course, is the central “brain” of your computer, whether that’s your trusty laptop, your workhorse all-in-one desktop, or your impossibly thin smartphone. The faster the processor, the faster you’re able to apply a Photoshop filter, or get Excel to calculate items in a household budget.

Simply increasing the speed of the processor (which today is typically measured in gigahertz) is one way to get things moving, but another approach is to add more cores to the mix.

“You can think of multiple cores like having multiple workers,” Antonette Asedillo, CR's lead laptop tester, says. “Each worker can be assigned a portion of a project and work simultaneously, making the process more efficient.”

Multi-core processors aren’t new—Intel debuted a dual-core processor in 2005 that was designed for desktops, and powerful desktop processors today can feature as many as 16 cores. High-end laptops aimed at serious gamers have had quad-core processors for a few years now, but these were typically large, bulky, and carried high price tags.

What's changed this year is the appearance of quad-core chips in mainstream laptops that previously had dual-core chips. Suddenly, laptops that were perfectly adequate with dual-core processors seem like a much better value with the addition of two extra cores. 

Will You Really Notice a Difference?

For a lot of people, the answer will be yes.

With two extra cores on the job, tasks that might have previously tripped up a laptop are likely to be less of a hassle. Asedillo, who has been testing laptops with quad-core processors, says you can look forward to performance boosts on a whole hosts of tasks, from merely browsing the web to rendering a video in Adobe Premiere Pro.

With a quad-core processor, you’re less likely to find your web browser grind to a halt when it encounters a multimedia-filled website; Skype sessions with your dorm-room-dwelling daughter won’t be as prone to freezing mid-conversation (assuming both of you have a speedy enough internet connection, that is); and you’ll find yourself spending less time waiting for Adobe Lightroom to transform your images from dull to dazzling.

However, not every app will benefit equally from having more cores to play with. As Asedillo notes, it’s hard for a word processor like Microsoft Word to get any faster at displaying words on a screen. And even high-end 3D games could benefit more from having a standalone graphics processor (or GPU) than additional processor cores.

“Programs handle multiple cores differently,” said Asedillo, “so some programs might utilize all available cores and complete tasks faster, but others might use only one and gain no speed over a single core.”

Where Can You Find These Laptops?

Many quad-core laptops are now becoming available from major manufacturers such as Asus, Dell, and HP. Actually finding them in stores, however, may be tough because they're so new.

For instance, the ASUS ZenBook 3 Deluxe UX490UA, which features Intel's latest quad core i7 processor, is available only in limited quantities at popular online stores like Amazon (1 unit in stock when we checked), Best Buy (none in stock), and Newegg (in stock, though limited to two per customer).

Other models featuring Intel's quad-core chips, including the latest Dell XPS 13, HP Spectre x360, and Lenovo Yoga 720, are similarly difficult to find in stores, but availability for all these laptops should improve as we move into the holiday shopping season.

AMD, meanwhile, has said that laptops featuring its new quad-core processors, which carry the brand name Ryzen, should start appearing in stores before the end of the year, though no firm dates have been announced.

Models that will include these new AMD Ryzen chips include the Acer Swift 3, HP Envy x360, and the Lenovo IdeaPad 720S.